When early in the week I set out to write today’s column, the one issue I had in mind was a follow-up to reactions that trailed my last column on the innovative steps Lagos State judiciary is taking to decongest its courts. However as I proceeded with the script, I suddenly realized that in all of these developments within the Alternative Dispute Resolution sphere, the Federal High Court has so far not featured. I know that like other hierarchies of courts, the Federal High Court encourages amicable resolution of disputes, particularly when it is at the instance of parties.
However as I write this, I am yet unaware of any specific ADR scheme that has been initiated by the court. This should not be so; more particularly because the court stands in a unique position as regards the commercial fortunes of our economy. Introducing ADR to matters within the jurisdiction of the court is therefore imperative. Within the court’s jurisdiction reside all fundamental commercial concerns of the nation such as maritime, banking, taxation, insurance, Companies and Allied Matters etc.
These are the very subject areas where alternative dispute resolution thrives best. It has been suggested in some quarters that it is perhaps the weight of these responsibilities of the court that have hindered administrative action in this regard. It is further suggested that perhaps a better approach to its involvement in ADR should be by way of a constitutional amendment empowering it in that regard just as the National Industrial Court was empowered to set up an ADR centre.
Significantly, however, some organizations under the purview of the Federal High Court have proactively set up in-house mediation schemes as envisaged by their enabling statutes. Disputes resolved through such schemes should derive judicial bite of enforcement if and when the Federal High Court shall give them judicial imprimatur as consent judgment of the court. Aside the foregoing expectations from the Federal High Court of Nigeria, it is is time too that government should establish Federal Mediation and Conciliation Centres to work in collaboration with federal agencies and adjudicative institutions like the multi-door courthouses of the various states do.
The truth that must be told both at federal and state levels is that mediation and litigation share a commonality in the pursuit of truth and justice and are in some ways interdependent. Mediation operates under the shadows of the court. Parties who go to mediation do so in the knowledge that litigation is imminent. In some respect this consciousness exerts some pressure or incentive to settle. Aside this, it is also common knowledge that for mediated settlements to be enforceable on parties who have the penchant to go back on their words such agreements must first be adopted as consent judgment of court.
For many more years to come, the relationship between litigation and mediation will continue to evolve as new possibilities emerge. A classic case of such interdependence was what played out in the recent presentation of the Lagos State Judiciary’s Backlog Elimination Programme in which litigated cases that get stuck in court are to be cleared through the process of alternative dispute resolution.
Indeed global practitioners and scholars are also on the case of the future of ADR. That formed the basis of a global survey which was initiated by the International Mediation Institute and undertaken in twenty four countries across regions of the world. Preliminary report of the survey indicated global users’ expectation that the platforms of mediation and conciliation will blend for combined usages with the platforms of litigation and arbitration.
Little wonder a sizeable number of arbitration centres now find use combining mediation with arbitration to achieve greater customer satisfaction. In this regard, parties who come to arbitration are encouraged in suitable cases to first mediate their dispute and to transmute into arbitration only when mediation fails. All of these developments will show that if there be any challenges in the complementarity between litigation and mediation, such impediments can only be traceable to professionals whose task it is to deploy them.
I should not conclude this piece without a word on the reactions that trailed the Lagos State Judiciary’s move to decongest the courts through the use of alternative dispute resolution.
To say the least it was an overwhelming ‘’thumbs up’’ literarily from every quarter. In one such reaction, an Abuja-based retiree Mr. Ken Uchegbu sent a text that read ‘’ I read your article on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in The Sun Newspaper of today and I wish to thank the LASG and the Chief Justice- Justice Opeyemi Oke for this noble act. This move by LASG will help decongest our courts and dispense timely justice to people-example is the landlords-tenants disputes that always drag for unnecessarily long time making people to seek for illegal means for justice (sic). I hope other States will copy LASG.’’